Review Summary: ToWhatEnd and metal?! Yes indeed this record had quite the effect on me awhile back. Listening to this again brought back old memories and inspired this review of a truely fantastic record.
Three years ago I listened to nothing but metal. Now let that sink in and slowly but surely raise your jaw back to its normal level as I am sure it has lowered a good four inches or so. That statement is true, as bands such as Metallica
, Iron Maiden
made up the vast majority of my CD collection. So when I heard advertisements for Shadows Fall
and their upcoming record The War Within
not a whole lot stuck out; that was until they said that it would revolutionize the group’s career as much as Master of Puppets did for Metallica
and their legacy. Upon hearing that phrase I decided to venture to the local Best Buy and pick up a copy of this. Despite the fact that it completely failed to live up to its hype, it was still an enjoyable album and will always be known as a crossover album for me. This was my introduction to the modern metal scene in a way, as I had really never been exposed to screamed vocals, breakdowns, and massive spurts of double bass, all of which help contribute to this NWOAHM I had been previously unaware of. Needless to say this record took quite some time to fully digest, but I will forever remember this as my first taste of the modern metal scene.
As a whole the record did take some time to reach its peak for me, but individually parts brought joy to my ears right away. The phenomenal guitar work falls directly into this category, as Jon Donais and Matt Bachand come through in terrific fashion. No matter what the situation maybe, these two are more than capable of handling it. Crushing, brutal riffs seem to come on command and they are in turn balanced out by some fantastic melodic work. Leads are very well put together and mix shredding and melody fused together almost flawlessly. Aside from that, I think that Shadows Fall has their guitarist’s pinches overlooked. While to some they might be in the shadow (no pun intended) of Zack and Alexi, they really do pull off some squealing pinches. They also play very well off of each other, as they create some beautiful harmonized lead lines which only add more depth to the melodic side of the band. All of these are factors that right away led me to loving the guitarists of this band right away. Drums also had the same immediate effect on me, as Jason Bittner is a great drummer. I do not define a great drummer as someone who fills the music with an abundance of 16th double bass notes at 200 beats per minute, I define great drummer as someone who has the ability to match the music. Jason always has the perfect beat for the specific situation, which plays a major role in the music since it often jumps from heavy to melodic so rapidly. Now of course when business picks up, he is more than capable of dishing out the example above as he is quite speedy with the double pedal. Bass is actually heard here, mainly in the melodic parts. This is a great aspect, as when the guitarists are playing some clean melodies Paul Romanko steps up the game with some intertwining lines. Even during the heavier sections he holds up his end very well and keeps the rhythm section tight, which as you have probably guessed by now is no easy task when Matt and Jon have a hold of their axes. Clearly instrumentals were a right away hit on this record and just about any metal fan will be able to get into them.
This being my first modern record, the vocal did take a bit to grow on me. I had never heard vocal styles as heavy as Brian Fair delivers. His screams are quite brutal and hit me like a haymaker in the first round of my debut fight. After a few listens my ears toughened up a bit and were able to fully enjoy his vocals on that end. The truly are wonderfully executed and are a perfect match for the music. This being melodic metal, Brian also exercises the use of a clean singing voice. His singing is slightly rough sounding, not bad rough sounding but more so has a harsh texture to it. It is a little difficult to explain, but things can sound somewhat aggressive when he sings. This is of course comparing his voice to Matt’s. Matt’s voice is simply beautiful, perfectly smooth and really adds a lot to the songs and the sections he sings in. If the band ever decided to make a singing only, softer, and ridiculously mainstream album (lord let this day never ever come) Matt could easily take over vocals. Pardon that horrific scenario, as it was just a way of expressing how talented of a singer he is. So by now it is very evident that is band is very talented as individuals. Dual vocals and guitarists both know how to work amongst each other, and when it comes to song writing they all only become tighter.
As far as metal as a genre goes, many bands in the modern scene seem to have a difficult time putting together a completely record with no weak tracks. Let me tell you that this is not an issue at all for Shadows Fall. This record is very consistent in the fact that every track is listenable and enjoyable. They all bring plenty of elements to the table, since the band has a wide variety of sounds. Some pieces obviously focus more on heaviness such as Act of Contraction
. Opening with some unrelenting drums and furious trash influenced riffs this is a beast of an intro. The verse features some wonderful harmonized guitar work while Jason exercises very calculated amounts of double bass. Unique rhythms and well put together guitar parts make this one furious track. There seems to be a focus on guitars here, but this is no problem as both Matt and Jon deliver the goods. Right after the second chorus there is a wicked solo. It begins at a very rapid pace, but eventually slows and switches its emphasis to melody. When the clean singing comes back, the solo finishes atop of it. Things sound awfully inspirational and fit together perfectly. On the subject of heaviness once more, The Power of I and I
comes to mind. Jason once again makes his presence felt, more specifically in the chest area as his double bass hits like a dropkick to the sternum throughout the intro. Riffs definitely focus on brutality here, as they are mainly hammer on and pull off down tuned power chord based. The style is very effective throughout the song and Brian’s vocals only add to the mayhem. One of my favorite aspects of this song is the guitar solo. With so much fury going on, one would expect a shredder. Surprise, surprise as the solo accents the softer emotions here and does so very successfully. This is proof that melody can exist without singing vocals, as I’m sure this lead would make the Amott brothers happy. The song’s outro is about as brutal as the beginning, as the breakdown is mighty crushing and perfectly executed.
The group’s ability to mix this heaviness with melodic elements is really what wins many over. The two singles off this are both prime examples. What Drives The Weak
is one heck of a song, combining quite the mixture of sounds. The intro slowly builds up anticipation and Brian’s yelled YEAH just fits in so right. Before the verse even comes in a guitar solo comes ripping through. Ever pulled a pacifier out of the mouth of a grouchy toddler? That shriek they make is captured during the solo, as the pinches are just incredible. They really add a lot in creating the madness like atmosphere found in the beginning. The verse has a little bit more a laid back feel to it despite the vocals being heavy. Than a very the melodic chorus comes in as clean guitars play some melodies over Brian’s singing. Paul makes a great appearance as his line is heard very well as sound perfect with the melody. Things pick up in tempo and sound as Matt and Brian have a dual vocal section, each adding their own unique flavor to a delicious concoction. The second half of the chorus is a bit faster but still keeps the melodic sound intact. After a heavy breakdown influenced passage, another solo comes through. It slowly builds up, tying into the melody based theme for the most part with the exception being the final seconds. The pace quickens over some double pedal work as things go into a final chorus. Eventually the intro comes out again, slightly modified but equally as effective, closing a remarkable song ever so properly. Now many albums have a bad rep of dragging in the middle, but once more Shadows Fall defies the norm as the crown jewel is found here. Inspiration On Demand
is just that, give it a listen and slowly digest the passion and beauty the song contains. Its intro is heavy, yet melodic based as a very fitting miniature lead line comes out. The verse is bar none the softest on the record, but works fantastically. Guitar wise the clean riff is simple yet incredible as bass provides the perfect accents. Brian’s singing is incredibly powerful during the verse, as his slightly rougher voice provides the perfect edge. This song really takes off during the chorus, as things pick up and Brian and Matt deliver their star performances of the record. The dual sections are just beautifully constructed, as Matt’s voice was made for this chorus. Between his smoothly sustained notes and the octave chords on guitar, things are just plain meant to be. The breakdown following the second chorus leads into one mother of a solo. A mind blowing hammer on run climbing the strings opens it up before some more rapid hammer on and pull off routines come into play. Than it comes out, easily my favorite moment of the record; as the solo begins to slow down a gorgeous melody is played and eventually harmonized. This type of emotion is so rarely found but Jon cranks it out in wonderful fashion. The chorus becomes a bit modified as the melodic lead line found in the intro comes out once again. Between the superb usage of both vocal styles and voices, wonderfully written leads and riffs, and an overall tight and unique outing, Inspiration On Demand
hits a home run in my eyes and is the best the record has to offer.
So much goes right throughout the group’s critically acclaimed record in The War Within
that a flaw is in turn created. Let me specify that, as this record is so consistent that at times it can become hard for a certain song to jump out. Pro and con both, since as stated before each and every song found here is listenable and likeable. However, the result of that is that few songs will fully jump out at the listener despite the variety found here. It becomes very clear throughout the duration of the record that the group can create heavy songs, melody based tunes, and combinations of the two. Of course, many groups can though, yet Shadows Fall does it all so consistently and at times seemingly effortlessly. While the sound is not ground breaking or genre defying, it is a wonderful change of pace from the dual vocal, breakdown overloaded stuff found in the metalcore genre. While Shadows Fall is not afraid to use certain aspects of that genre such as a breakdown or two, they do not completely rely on them by any stretch due to the fact that they are more adventurous than that. They have loads more creativity, as they fill their songs to the brim with many aspects of metal. In turn, this will pull in fans from many types of metal or heavier music. Their ability to create a phenomenal guitar solo not matter what the case maybe will make the group appeal to many fans of traditional metal. (as this was the case was for myself years ago) Listeners of metalcore will have plenty of enjoy here as far as the wonderful dual vocals, crushing riffs, and rapid paced drums are concerned. And of course fans of the New Wave of American Heavy Metal are concerned they most likely have enjoyed this record time and time again. That is not entirely difficult to do, as Shadows Fall created an incredibly memorable album in The War Within
and I will forever remember this as my first dose of enjoyable modern metal. It is beautifully melodic, brutally heavy, and always consistent. If you are a metal fan or even someone wanting to branch out towards a heavier msound, this belongs in your collection
Final Rating: 4/5